What does it take to grow a successful business? Enough clients? Good luck? Weak competitors? The perfect business plan?

Oddly enough, research shows none of these are as important as three factors – 

  1. The environment in which the business operates
  2. Understanding the financial situation of the enterprise
  3. The mindset of the founder/CEO/MD

We can’t do much about our business environment – if there’s a recession, we can’t magically escape it and if our clients are struggling, it’s only natural that we’ll feel the pinch too. We can and must understand our own financial position and stay on top of it: financial acumen is part of the life-blood of every business. But what about the third point?

How big do you think – and how often?

Perhaps the last time you really looked at your business as a whole was when you created your business plan? For many of us, the day-to-day running of a busy organisation can lead to client priorities becoming our own and to a micro-focus on the needs of this week, or at best, this month.

Big thinking doesn’t mean dreaming about buying a villa in Tuscany with the profits from your VA business! It means stepping back and examining every new possibility for its potential to drive your business forward. It also means setting goals that challenge you, and striving to achieve them.

One example is Lisa Irlam, the founder of Pool-Mate. When she set up her company to design and market lap counters for swimmers it was her vision to be on the wrist of every triathlete. Every triathlete – that’s a pretty big aim! In 2009, with the prototype in hand, she used a free PR website to announce a ‘swimming watch’ existed. After 18 months she’d sold 30,000 Pool-Mates and last year Swimovate, the parent company, announced a partnership with Speedo – the world’s biggest swimming brand. By thinking big, Lisa managed to achieve the apparently impossible.

Thinking big in action

Easy to say but not so easy to do. Here are three tips to help you learn to think big.

Develop good habits – negative thinking damages many small businesses and sometimes we’re not aware we’re doing it. Learn to test every idea for ‘bigness’ by asking yourself three questions:

  • Is this new and challenging?
  • Will I grow, or will my business grow, if this comes off?
  • Will I regret not trying this, especially if somebody else succeeds?

If the answer to all three is yes, it’s a big idea! If not, it may still be a great idea, but it’s not likely to be an impetus to business growth.

Interview yourself – one of the ways of checking whether you have a big idea or just a big dream is to sit down and write the answers to a number of questions that might be posed to you by an interviewer asking about your massive success. For example:

  1. “What was the first step to your success?”
  2. “How did you fund your first efforts?”
  3. “What was the most difficult aspect of your first year/project/contract?”
  4. “How many times did you have to try before you succeeded?”

These questions and your answers, will give you a step-by-step route to success – if you can’t answer any questions then you’ve probably got a dream not an idea, so it’s time to go back and make it more concrete.

Think like a big business a big business has already succeeded, so clearly if you learn to think like big businesses, you’re thinking successfully. Here’s what market leaders do:

  • Hire the right people – thinkers need to think, sellers need to sell, producers need to produce. If you’re a one person organisation you need to do all three, so what can you let go of? Maybe a professional answering service would free you up to think, sell and produce, or maybe it’s something domestic you can delegate or give up– either way, put your effort where it matters.
  • Recycle your big ideas – sometimes it’s not the idea that’s wrong, it’s the timing. Big enterprises keep a list of their ideas and regularly test them against the market. When the time is right, they launch them. You can do that too.
  • Keep in touch – the bigger the business, the more time it spends talking to clients, potential clients, and the world in general. It’s all too easy to get sucked into living at our desks, fulfilling the day’s needs and never spotting the perfect opportunity to double our business size because we weren’t at the networking event or business breakfast where a local company stated its desire to have somebody just like us provide them with just what we provide!

By always thinking about growth, we can develop a mindset that recognises opportunities and leaps to meet them.